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Robertson popular but assailable over homelessness, polls finds

Mayor Gregor Robertson is popular but still vulnerable to a challenge in next year's civic election because of voter dissatisfaction over homelessness, the Olympic village and bike lanes, according to a poll released to The Globe and Mail.

The first-term mayor has a 49 per cent approval rating from decided voters, who like his focus on making Vancouver an environmentally conscious city. They also like his efforts tackling homelessness and creating bike lanes, according to a Justason Market Intelligence poll that surveyed just over 500 people.

Although that approval rating is considered strong in the world of politics, it's a big drop from the 78-per-cent approval reported by his Vision Vancouver party's polling company last spring.

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The Justason poll found 52 per cent of decided voters said they would vote for Mr. Robertson's party. Only 28 per cent said they would vote for the Non-Partisan Association, the centre-right party that had dominated city politics for decades.

But almost half of all those polled say they don't like the way Mr. Robertson and his council are handling the Olympic village, the billion-dollar project that has been mired in financial problems and could end up costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A third of those polled disapprove of the city's performance when it comes to reducing homelessness. It is not clear whether they think Mr. Robertson's team isn't doing enough or whether they sympathize with those who complain that city hall is pushing homeless shelters into residential areas.

A third disapproved of the push to create bike lanes.

Half of those polled said they don't know who they would vote for.

"There's still approval but the issue of homelessness is an area of vulnerability," said Barb Justason, whose firm did the poll. "And there's a large swing vote at this point."

Ms. Justason, a past vice-president of the Market Research and Intelligence Association, long-established Vancouver market researcher, did polls for previous Non-Partisan Association mayor Sam Sullivan.

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Her poll numbers, while still showing Mr. Robertson as relatively strong, have noticeably lower approval ratings than those in a poll leaked to the media in May by Vision's primary pollster.

Strategic Communications, which works closely with the mayor and has done all the polling for Vision since the party was established in 2005, showed a 78-per-cent approval rating for the mayor, with 69 per cent of decided voters saying they would vote for the Vision Vancouver party.

Ms. Justason noted that the entire Strategic poll and its methodology were never released.

Mr. Robertson, the founder of the Happy Planet organic-juice company and a former New Democratic Party MLA, swept into power with Vision Vancouver in November, 2008, on promises of solving homelessness, making Vancouver the "greenest city in the world" and bringing new green businesses to the city.

This term is the first ever for the Vision party, which was formed after then-mayor Larry Campbell and some councillors split from the city's long-time left-wing party, the Coalition of Progressive Electors.

Vision has worked to position itself as a centrist party by reducing business taxes and holding the line on the city budget, while pushing aggressively to get homeless people off the street into shelters, as a first step, and then into transitional or permanent housing.

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However, the mayor and party have been subject to heavy criticism in recent months over several issues: the creation of permanent bike lanes on downtown streets, a plan to promote rental housing that has provoked a backlash in the West End because of the height of some of the rental towers, and internal dissent from the city's non-union managers and professional staff.

The poll was conducted Aug. 16-23. The estimated margin of error is 4.9 percentage points, 19 times in 20.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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